What a year it is turning out to be for Indian independent features. After festivals honours for Killa at Berlin and Court at Venice last year and Masaan at Cannes and Thithi at Locarno this year comes the news that Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City has bagged the Fedeora Award for best director of a debut film at Venice Days, a sidebar event to the Venice Film Festival. Oberoi’s movie, which has been produced by the National Film Development Corporation, strings together three stories set in Mumbai.

According to a press release, the first is of a “middle-aged man who wins the office ‘Fun Committee Award’, which entitles him to a whole day full of fun”. The second story is of “an autocratic man whose family brings home a television set when he is critically ill and away in a hospital”. The third is about how a letter brings sudden changes to a woman’s drudgery-ridden life. The movie stars Vinay Pathak, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Amruta Subhash and Chandan Roy Sanyal, among others.

“From what the jury members said to me I gathered that they liked the fact that this was a modern and contemporary film,” Oberoi told Scroll.in “They liked the dark humour of the film and the freshness of the writing. They were also moved by the performances of the actors and the technical proficiency.”  Island City is an “absurd black comedy within the realm of realism”, she added.

Tamil filmmaker Vetri Maaran’s gritty prison drama Visaaranai (Interrogation) was selected for the section Orizzonti, which scopes out artistically interesting works from around the world. The award in that category went to Jake Mahaffy’s religious-themed drama Free in Deed, but Visaaranai didn’t come away empty-handed. It bagged Amnesty International Italy’s annual award for the best film on human rights.

Since these awards have been handed out by prestigious European festivals, the films, especially Island City, have a good chance of attracting distribution deals and press coverage in the arthouse circuits in Europe and North America. Victory in a foreign land also has add-on benefits back home. Indian titles often get selected for big-name festivals, but very few of them return with gongs. A Venice win, even at a sidebar event, makes the journey from the film festival to the movie theatre a little bit easier. Since Island City’s producer, National Film Development Corporation, has a poor record of distributing its titles, it is likely that an outside distributor will step in.

The NFDC has, however, played a vital role in helping Island City reach its goal. Oberoi, a Film and Television Institute of India graduate, had routed her script through the Screenwriters’ Lab at Film Bazaar, the NFDC’s annual marketplace for potential filmmakers and writers, agents, distributors, producers and festival programmers. Movies in various stages of their production gather significant pre-festival buzz at Film Bazaar, and the event has become a crucial destination for independent filmmakers interested in taking their films to international audiences.

The kind of Indian films that have historically tended to impress foreign juries remain the ones made in the realist idiom. The song-and-dance element of popular filmmaking distinguishes Indian cinema from the rest of the world. Movies that eschew this aspect find that their attempts to reach out to audiences and markets around the world are far easier.

Big Bollywood tried to win festival acclaim for years before giving up in favour of expanding their overseas territories. Meanwhile, independent films have improved production values and brought storytelling modes on par with internationally accepted standards. The good news might only be beginning.